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Carleton University's indictment of police creates controversy among criminology schools and law enforcement agencies

  Carleton University's criminology school says it will no longer place students to work with police forces and prisons as a show of solidarity with the movement to address systemic racism in Canada's criminal justice institutions. Signage is seen at the Carleton University campus is seen in Ottawa, Wednesday, Oct. 25, 2017
Carleton University's criminology school says it will no longer place students to work with police forces and prisons as a show of solidarity with the movement to address systemic racism in Canada's criminal justice institutions. Signage is seen at the Carleton University campus is seen in Ottawa, Wednesday, Oct. 25, 2017

Issuing a harsh indictment of policing in Canada, Carleton University’s criminology department says it is severing its student placement programs with law enforcement agencies to address systemic racism and colonialism.

Police and prison intuitions are “hostile to outside critiques,” show “imperviousness to reform” and “do not have the leadership capacity to engage in the transformative change,” says a statement from the Ottawa school’s Institute of Criminology and Criminal Justice.

“Even in the context of widespread public scrutiny and claims to be reforming, Canadian police are on pace to kill a record number of people in 2020, many of whom are racialized, Indigenous, and/or suffering mental health challenges.”

It is not a position all schools or academics support.

Rémi Boivin, director of the International Centre for Comparative Criminology at the Université de Montréal, said Carleton’s decision is bad for research and bad for students.

“I would expect that kind of move by a political organization but from something that claims to train students in research, it is not exactly a good message to send. In research, the ideal position is that you’re neutral and you’re trying to understand a given issue,” Boivin said.

“You don’t have to agree with everything an organization you are going to study is doing,” he said. He said the Université de Montréal was not following Carleton’s move.

Over 21 years, thousands of Carleton students had field placements with the RCMP, Ottawa Police Service, Correctional Services Canada and the Ottawa-Carleton Detention Centre, the school says.

You don’t have to agree with everything an organization you are going to study is doing

The wave of international protests over racism within policing sparked a dramatic re-assessment.

“The Black Lives Matter movement and Indigenous organizers in Canada provides an opportunity to move beyond episodic discussions of structural racism and enact tangible actions, particularly in regards to criminal justice systems in Canada,” the statement says.

David MacAlister, director of the School of Criminology at Simon Fraser University in Burnaby, B.C., one of the largest programs in Canada, said all of it student placements have already been cancelled, but because of COVID-19. The school usually does have field placements with police, court, corrections, and community agencies affiliated with the justice system.

“The other social issues being addressed by Carleton have not yet been up for discussion in our school in the context of field placements,” he said.

Audrey Macklin, director of the University of Toronto’s Centre for Criminology & Sociolegal Studies said there are no student placements in her criminology program.

Several other criminology programs asked for its policy did not respond prior to deadline.

The RCMP was given special criticism in Carleton’s statement.

“While transforming the practices of criminal justice institutions have been spotlighted as an essential component in addressing systemic racism and colonialism, these institutions have demonstrated their imperviousness to reform,” it says.

The faculty highlighted comments from RCMP Commissioner Brenda Lucki denying the existence of systemic racism in Canadian policing. When revising her statement, she was then unable to articulate a basic definition of systemic racism. The criminologists say this is “illustrative” of the federal force.

The RCMP said the decision makes them sad.

“The RCMP values the students and relationships we have built with the Carleton University Criminology department over the past 10 years,” said Corp. Caroline Duval, a national spokeswoman. She said many placement students later joined the force.

“The RCMP believes that bringing students from the program into the organization is of great benefit, especially during a time of transformative organizational change,” Duval said. “These students bring fresh and innovative ways of thinking and an academic lens to the organization that supports our organizational response to complex and emerging policing issues.”

A request for comment from the Ottawa police was unanswered prior to deadline Wednesday.

Carleton’s statement says it will continue to have student placements in the programs, but drawn from a “broader range” of options associated with the criminal justice system.

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